Fanfic: Tron Invasion Chapter 13 (Part A)
on Sunday, October, 06, 2013 3:40 PM
Breaking this up, as it's a 20 page chapter.
A latticework of energy beams crossed above the cityscape of the server, but the routes Romie drove were roundabout, some of them little more than thin trickles of light over an endless-looking span of darkness below. He switched beams frequently, not keeping to a single strand for very long. Mercury had ducked into the cabin to aft, preferring to pace the cargo hold than sit.
To pass the time and take the edge off his frayed nerves, Jet was reading emails he'd downloaded from the archive bins as he and Mercury rushed through the system. Most of the emails were useless – minutia about project work, out of office notifications, one employee taking paternity leave because he and his partner adopted a little girl from China. Some mentioned the rumored sale, but Jet never paid much attention to the rumors. Besides, most everyone knew that Mackey was good with playing the market and making sure the stock continued to be a good buy, but something of an idiot on everything else. Jet also knew the board was split, and the whole thing was above his pay grade anyway.
Of course, since Sam wasn't going to emerge from his storage shed, that made his dad the next biggest stockholder, and theoretically the deciding vote. But was that behind the kidnapping? How did Thorne factor into all this? How did everything tie together?
He stretched and yawned. Fatigue was creeping up on him and his stomach was growling. The last time he slept or “ate” was back in the cycle arena, and he had no idea how long ago that was. He had a vague recollection about time probably working differently here, but the specifics eluded him.
“What's below us?” Jet asked, looking out on what seemed to be an ocean of black ink.
“The Simulation Sea. Every system, no matter how large, is just an island in it.”
“So we could go to another system by crossing it?”
Romie shook his head. “In theory, you might, but in practice, it's nothing but cold, corrupted junk data. The only way to travel between systems is a designated exit port or transit beam. I've never know the Sea to be anything other than a deathtrap. A few Programs every cycle drown in it. We run out of power and we'll sink. That's why the ICP interceptors aren't following. They use a lot more power than an email packet, and can't use these low-power tracks. Of course, there is a risk we'll drain the remaining power and drop like dead weight.”
“So...we're taking a big risk.”
“De-rez here or de-rez at the ICP prisoner bin. It's still de-rez. We're just going the...” The lights flickered ominously. “Uh-oh.” Romie pounded the controls, and the control panel lit back up. “Whew! Thought we were in trouble there. We're just going the route that might get you and Mercury to Ma3a's Citadel.”
“What about you?”
Romie stared out across the Sea. “What about me? I wasn't meant to run without Marco and Aida.” He stared out into the nothing. “But when you and Mercury came along, I figured I can die fighting, at least.”
“You're not going to -” Jet wasn't sure how to finish the sentence, much less if he wanted to.
“Obsolescence is a fate worse than de-rez. Even if my Users restore Marco and Aida from backup? Well...it won't be them.”
Jet was tempted to ask, but decided against it. No sense in rubbing salt (or equivalent thereof) into Romie's wounds.
“Hey,” Romie asked, obviously keen on changing the subject. “What was your function before Ma3a sent you in here?”
“Users don't exactly have functions or directives,” Jet explained. “It sometimes takes us a long time to find out what our purpose is, but...” The chair squeaked convincingly as he leaned back. “Unfortunately, I make games.”
“Why's that unfortunate?”
“Romie, those games...the Game Grid is...” He ran his hand through his hair, trying to figure out a good explanation. “My side of the screen, they're harmless fun. This side of the screen, they're lethal.”
“The Users...you didn't intend to make them that way?”
Jet shook his head. “No! If I knew...I've lost count of how many laptops I've dropped, hard drives I've reformatted, servers I've crashed, and game bots I've destroyed. And all of them were like you and Mercury – living beings with friends, and jobs, and everything. I'm surprised you don't hate us!”
Romie shrugged. “My processor doesn't handle philosophy too well, Jet. But I haven't been let down by Ted-8 or Jenna-5. They rezzed me up, gave me a purpose, set me up with Marco and Aida. Can't complain too much about my runtime up until this point. And you? You're probably better than you think you are.”
Mercury walked back in and sat in the middle chair. “What's our ETA to the Citadel?”
“About fifteen -” A flash of red passed across the viewport to the port side. Romie went ramrod straight in his chair. “Oh, glitch!” Yanking the control stick hard, the transport shrieked in protest as it veered sharply to the right. “We're gonna have to put down – that thing's a reformat! It touches us and it's all over. Strap in, folks!”
Mercury, Jet, and Romie fastened the restraints. Romie flicked switches and dials, jerking controls that were minimally responsive at best. Jet put his hand on the control panel, bracing himself, hoping with everything he had that it wouldn't end here.
The little email transport faltered on its beam and began to drop into free fall, hitting the dead Sea at an angle and skipping like a stone, once, twice, three times until it skidded onto the “beach.”
Romie didn't black out, but he was a little surprised to still be alive after the rough landing. “Everyone okay?”
Mercury unhooked her belt. “Yes. Jet?”
Jet groaned. “A little banged up. I've had hangovers more pleasant than this.”
“Can you walk?”
He pushed back, fumbling for the belt control. “I'll try.”
Mercury unbuckled him and helped him to his feet. He staggered drunkenly and Romie caught him before he fell over. The pair of Programs steadied him as they limped out of the transport.
Romie kept looking over his shoulder. “That reformat's not stopping, How long you think we have?”
Mercury looked up at the red wall, far away on the horizon but inching closer. “If we're not off in fifteen minutes, we're de-rezzed.”
The Kernel watched from his tower. The ICP units were hunkering down near the front lines for a final stand against the Z-lot invasion, but his tower had also dispatched every transport to the ICP line to escape the reformat. The server was a total loss, but the army would survive and live to fight on other servers, other parts of the network. Stopping the Z-lots was the most critical function, all other Programs could be sacrificed; acceptable losses to continue the fight.
The other reason to have Ma3a's citadel under interdict was to prevent the AI from escaping. She proved to be one more unpredictable factor. Ma3a's so-called “countermeasure” had slaughtered his way across half the sector, incited a prison riot, and took efforts away from combating the Z-lots.
An I/O node lit on his panel and he touched it. The message was from a public node on the far edge of the sector.
“Morton Seven – report.”
Morton saluted and then began to speak. “Kernel, we found the stolen transport on the far edge of the sector on the shores of the Simulation Sea. It looks like they were trying to escape across a discontinued transit route when they lost power and crashed.”
“Did you find the fugitives?”
“No, Kernel, but we assume they de-rezzed in the crash.”
“You assume?!” The Kernel tapped his fingers against the panel and hit another panel. “Send a squadron of light jets with bomber escort. Raze the sector. We are leaving them nowhere to hide.”
Mercury suspected that while Romie's piloting did the heavy lifting, there was some User intervention on Jet's part that kept them all from making a nose-dive into the Sea. Jet could move - but not very well. He was leaning against walls every few steps to stay upright. Romie was staying in the center, circuitry a little dim, but not too badly damaged..
The area they were passing through was deserted. Not even so much as an errant Bit was floating around. It was likely the residential sector for system utilities district, judging from the few discarded tools haphazardly left behind; crates and brooms for file cleanup, a broken mechanic's re-coder. The tools were among debris and personal belongs scattered on the walkways, like the occupants had dropped whatever they were doing in mid-task.
Romie spoke up. “Mercury, we have to find an energy pool or something, because I'm exhausted, and our User friend doesn't look so hot, either.”
Mercury looked around the buildings. “This is a residential zone. An energy well shouldn't be too hard to find.”
“If it's...it's a residential area,” Jet asked, his words slurring a little. In a Program, that meant being critically low on power. “Then why are all the windows dark?”
Mercury looked over her shoulder at the reformat wall, still a red haze on the far horizon, but closing in. “Ma3a would have sent out an evacuation order if she re-established any kind of communications. Standard procedure would be to get everyone aboard Reco transports and upload them to safety, but with the Kernel blowing his stack...”
"They've....been abandoned or arrested...or de-rezzed outright," Jet said, filling in the rest as he leaned against the wall to keep from falling on his face.
Mercury folded her arms. "Unfortunately, the Kernel may be irrational, temperamental, and not very good with things out of his function, he's very good with what is in his parameters. Jet, what can you tell us about Thorne? Anything could be important at this point."
“Hold up,” Romie said. “Just what are you, anyway? You sure aren't some lightcycle jock.”
Mercury scowled. She didn't like announcing this. “I'm an Agent. Group Seven. Means I usually don't take orders from Users, I take orders from her.”
“An Agent? Group Seven? Seriously?” Romie shook his head like he didn't hear it right. “That's a bit much. Easier to believe that I'm traveling with a User than some Group Seven operative.”
Mercury's scowl didn't abate. She pulled her disc off and dialed up the ID display. Superimposed over the 3-D model of her face was a gold symbol that looked like a stylized version of Ma3a's mask and seven gold lights encircling it. “This enough proof?” When Romie was too stunned to produce an answer, she snapped the display shut. “And before you ask, no, I checked for any other agents still active. There are none. Thorne wiped us out. Means that as much as I don't like the idea any more than you will? You're being conscripted.”
Romie flinched back. “Excuse me?”
Jet ssank down to sit on the ground. "Romie, you've been a big help so far. We wouldn't have been able to leave that sector without you.”
“You think I'm going to be some kind of Agent? What are you, glitched?”
“Ma3a recruits from all walks of Program life. And operatives usually aren't open about what they are unless there's an emergency. Most of the time, we're just her eyes on the system, making sure small problems stay small.”
“The Administrator's private spyware network,” Romie said accusingly. “What if she goes off the rails?”
“Get your head out of defrag. We're independent security monitors, not mindless bots. We serve the System and the people in it. And yes, there are protocols for if Ma3a becomes corrupted. Users willing, that won't happen.”
“Don't know Thorne well,” Jet said, mercifully steering the conversation back to the task at hand. “He's in charge of building security at Encom...good at that, otherwise he'd have been fired. Almost had Sam in handcuffs during one of his visits. I...uh...I killed the lights and triggered the sprinkler system. Slowed Thorne down long enough for Sam to get away."
Romie and Mercury shared a confused look, and Jet sighed. "Never mind."
“You're a User, you got uploaded here. Same thing could have happened to Thorne,” Romie said.
“Maybe. But who could have done it and why? And how could Thorne be behind this virus? He's no programmer, certainly not good enough to develop what we're seeing. ” He glanced up, seeing a light in the near distance. “What's that?”
"That," Mercury said. "Might just be our ticket out of here. It's the packet transport station. With luck, we might be able to get on the evacuation Reco."
Jet tried to get to his feet, leaning on the wall for support.
Mercury looked behind her. "It won't be much longer, Jet. We'll find Ma3a and we will get answers."
Romie argued, "He doesn't need answers. He needs energy."
She took one glance towards Ma3a's tower in the distance, and another glance at the approaching reformat. Even if they were lucky enough to get transport, they'd be cutting this close. She could just order them ahead, but Romie's lines were clearly faded and Jet's were even worse. Glitch it, she was getting soft. Looking around, she found a window with the security password auto-saved and smashed it with her rod. The window shorted out with a hiss of energy. Climbing inside, she quickly found what she was looking for – an energy font and flask subroutines. The energy that dribbled out of the font wasn't the clear, purified stuff. Impurities gave it a yellowish sheen that thankfully wasn't the same yellow as viral code. She sampled some first to be on the safe side, then filled three flasks with energy, passing two through the open window to Romie and Jet while she drained the third.
“Drink while we walk. We don't have all microcycle to sit here. We have to keep moving.”
Romie grimaced as he drank, but his circuits returned to normal. Jet didn't react to the acrid taste, and his circuitry remained dim. He must have expended a lot more energy than even he realizes. I hope he realizes he's not invulnerable. So far, he seemed much too at ease with risking his life, and that set off her alarms.
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It's an entire universe in there, one we created, but it's beyond us now. Really. It's outgrown us. You know, every time you shut off your computer...do you know what you're doing? Have you ever reformatted a hard drive? Deleted old software? Destroyed an entire universe?"
-- Jet Bradley, Tron: Ghost in the Machine on why being a User isn't necessarily a good thing.